Interview with William Stewart Allmond, 1969 July 3 [audio] (part 2)
- Great Depression; World War II; financial and familial problems with Lobdell Car Wheel Company managementKeywords: accounting; audits; Charles F. Wollaston; CIO; Day and Zimmerman; family run businesses; George G. Lobdell; Great Depression; Harold L. Springer; Howard Seaman; John Huxley; Joseph Stuart; labor; Mach and Co. C.P.A.; National Labor Relations Board; Nazel Engineering and Machine Company; O'Brien Machine Co.; Palmer and Company; Robert C. Tolmie; taxes; United Steelworks of America; William G. Jones; William Lobdell; World War IITranscript: Allmond: [reading] "And they found some discrepancies and they had to cough up $18,000 for that delayed audit. The labor situation mentioned in the last annual meeting came to a head during the past year and after a national relations labor board election held on May 12, 1944 United Steelworkers of America-CIO was certified as the sole bargaining agent for all the company's production employees. It is worthy of note that this election was won by a slight majority of 5 votes. At the present writing a contract has just been entered into with the union for a period of one year. Your management feels that it is a fair written contract to both parties and that mutually satisfactorily relations will result. Looking at the brighter side of the year's operations the company had net sales of a little over one and a quarter million dollars on which was returned a net profit of $50,800, or about 4%. Mach & Co., C.P.A. have again audited the Company‘ s books and their detailed report is on file for the examination of any stockholder interested in further details. A brief digest of this year-end report is presented with this letter to show the comparison with the three preceding years when the company was reorganized and the new accounting system instituted. Due to the fact that for the major part of 1944 the Company was under the presidency of Mr. Seaman, the present management was in a junior and advisory capacity. However, it seems pertinent at this time to review some of the highlights of the past four years when the company was reorganized." Now, does this information have any bearing for you? "Your attention is drawn particularly to the very large amount of money that has been put back into the plant in the way of new equipment, repair of old vitally needed repairs and maintenance of buildings. This figure of $226,000 is just slightly short of the Company sales for the entire year of 1940." That was what was put back into the business more than the total sales in 1940. "In the beginning of 1941 the plant was in a pretty badly run down condition following the depression years." Now, you asked a question about the depression. "And while we still need some items of new machinery we now have the equipment and property in good shape at a far greater value to the stockholders. By taxation and other means the government has prevented any large profits during the war, which is as it should be. Your Company, however, has shown an operating profit for each one of the past four years whereas no profit had been earned from operations since 1926 and in 1939 and 1940 a loss was shown of approximately $55,000 and $40,000 respectively. Furthermore dividends were paid in 1943 and 1944 for the first time since 1938 and those that were paid during the period of 1926 to 1938 of course were not paid from operating profits but from surplus of capital." Those dividends being paid I referred to before as being under the will of the old gentleman to take care of the girls." We realize of course that the terrific impetus given to all capital goods industry by the war have been in a large measure responsible for the great improvement in the Company's condition. Had it not been for the heavy war demand for our new products just at the time we purchased the Nazel Engineering and Machine Company with its list of machine tools We would have had a very difficult if not impossible time. In 1940 we ceased to manufacture railroad car wheels after 104 years." Now that will answer the question which you asked previously. "...and priority restrictions sharply curtailed production in our paper mill machinery line so that war orders for our new line of machine tools provided the help needed to get us through the transition period. Your management feels justified however, in taking credit for planning and executing the reorganization of the company since 1941. In increasing the stockholders‘ equity in plant buildings and equipment and in more economical production methods all in the face of severe government restrictions, a critical shortage of workers, and rising labor costs. In regard to prospects for the period after the war we are optimistic as far as the present products are concerned. We look for a brief lull immediately after hostilities are declared, at an end because of present confusion in Washington over reconversion. Just as soon as priority restrictions are relaxed however, we expect to enjoy cur fair share of business particularly in our paper mill line. We have already laid our plans for more extensive sales and advertising efforts than we have ever had before and coupled with this we have been improving and modernizing the design of our Nazel hammer, drill slotter and Lobdell grinder in order to meet the keen post-war competition. We have also purchased the patent rights to a knife grinder to add to our line of paper and pulp mill machinery." And, by the way, that never panned out at all. We didn't...never even got into production. "In regard to the large portion of our foundry facilities which have been idle since going out of the car wheel business we have greatly expanded our outside jobbing work in gray iron castings, and hope that as volume increases We will show a profit in our foundry department at the end of the year. In conclusion, although there is yet much to be accomplished and modernized in the Lobdell Company and make it a more efficient producer, your management feels that the worst of the job is done and that given relief from government restrictions and excessive taxation as soon as the war is over," that's a laugh, relief from taxation, "we can meet the competition in our industry. We also feel very strongly that the stockholders' investment is far greater than at any time in the past twenty-five years and we want to cordially invite all of you to pay a visit to the plant to see for yourselves the results of the past four years." Now that's dated May 14, 1945. By February, 1946 I think it was, we were down and out, financially.
Scafidi: What was the reason?
Allmond: Now that, I have never been able to figure out. I was a Director but I was a minority Director and a great deal of it was under the hats of the majority Directors. We had an audit made by Day and Zimmerman, no, not Day and Zimmerman, we had been looked into from an efficiency standpoint by Day and Zimmerman some years before and plant operations which at that time were under my direction got a clean bill of health from Day and Zimmerman that the plant was efficiently operated but that the sales department and auditing department — administrative work - was not as it should be. Palmer and Company in Philadelphia, who were efficiency people and auditors, came in there after we got in trouble. I was retained by the new management and one of Palmer's auditors, one night I met him over in New York. I tried to get out of him what he had discovered, why and and he said, "Just plain, pure cussed, shortsighted sales policy and management at the top echelon." I hesitate to go any further into it on account of family connections and so on.
Scafidi: Well, was everybody as optimistic just before the war ended as that report would point to?
Allmond: Do you mean in other industry? You mean just the management of the Company. I couldn't agree with that, wholeheartedly, with that report. We had originally, to go back some, originally there were 5 directors of the Company, they were all family with the exception of Joseph Stuart who was referred to there as chief engineer but when I went to work for the company there was William Lobdell, President, who was also a Director, George G. Lobdell, Jr. vice president and Director, Charles F. Wollaston, who was Secretary and Treasurer and Director. (His sister was George G. Lobdell's wife, George G. Lobdell, Jr.'s wife), Joseph Stuart was a Director and Howard Seaman was a Director. Those were the five Directors in 1912-13, in that time and on the death of Mr. Wollaston, Robert C. Tolmie was elected a Director. He had been general manager. And then I went on the board as a Director after the death of Tolmie and there were five of us then until the Company was reorganized in the 40's and then William G. Jones, who was a stockbroker. Harold L. Springer was a physical and John Huxley was a Director. He was a lawyer in Wilmington. They came on the board - the board was in- creased and from then on we had considerable dissension. They were members of the family one way or the other — either by marriage or des¢ endants of the old George G. Lobdell, Sr. Harold Springer, Sr. by marriage and Huxley and Jones were descendants and they wanted - the outside directors as we called them - expected the rest of us to compete in earnings and size and magnitude with the DuPont Company. "Oh, we're going to set the world on fire." Well, it wasn't that kind of business that you could do it with and from then on we had plenty of scrapping. I don't know why or what went on that caused the financial collapse between that report in 1945 and early in 1946. This man Weimer who they put on the board had been an officer of the Nazel Engineering and Machine Co. that we bought the business from and Weimer came with the business and was made a director of the company and I say it was over my protest. I voted against him because I...I don't like to speak ill of the dead, he's dead now, but I didn't trust him from the very beginning. The company in which he had managed in Philadelphia had failed.
Scafidi: Is that why you...?
Allmond: And O'Brien Machine Co. were receivers for the Nazel Engineering Works and somehow or other Weimer came down and got our company interested in buying out this defunct Nazel Engineering Works. We were looking for different products in order - it did save our neck during World War II because we wouldn't have been able to get materials or labor if it hadn't been something that we were making for war industry and, but Weimer I never trusted. I told him to his face the last time I saw him, "You are a liar and the truth is not in you." And that is the way we two directors were, scrapping with each other. And I was told by a friend who I trusted who knew, who went to college with young O'Brien of the O'Brien Machinery Co. who had the Nazel. He lived across from me in Wawaset then in Wilmington and he had been a college mate of young O'Brien and when my neighbor found out that we were buying Nazel he said, "My God, are you ever getting taken for a ride.“ Young O'Brien sat in my room in college - they both went to Cornell - and said, My God, if we could only get rid; of the Nazel business. My father says he's got a prospect with a gang of "suckers" Lobdell down in the Wilmington area." Those were his exact words.
Scafidi: Did you have a chance to look at the Nazel property? And their equipment?
Allmond: No. We bought their patents and we bought their patterns and their drawings and along with it we had to take this man Weimer and the man who had been their superintendent in their plant in Philadelphia as employees. We took them in.
Scafidi: You moved them down to Wilmington?
Allmond: We moved them down to Wilmington. We did all the manufacturing down here.
Pizor: What was Nazel's main product?
Allmond: It was the Nazel hammer. A forging hammer. I think I gave you a picture of one being assembled. We made them, a good many of them during the war on lend-lease and also for our own army and own navy contracts and...I'm being absolutely straight forward on this. This man Weimer, that I didn't trust, was the one who took care of the sales and the making of contracts for any of their products which we had bought. He'd go to Washington and he'd come back and he'd say, "Well, I lost that contract down there because our price was too high." He'd go down again to the Navy Department of lend-lease and say, "I got the contract, but I had to shave 10% off the price." Well, you can't keep on shaving 10% off the price and still operate. And the profit in the machine tool industry at that time, if you could make 4% you were lucky. No business can exist on 4%. So, this auditor from New York that I met, a Philadelphia auditor, blamed a part of our troubles on low sales prices. I don't know...we'd been better off if we hadn't taken some of those contracts. I know that, financially.
- Management problems at Lobdell Car Wheel Company; aging machinery at LobdellKeywords: car wheels; DuPont; George G. Lobdell Sr.; George G.Lobdell Jr.; Harold Springer; Hazeldel Fair; Howard Seaman; Lobdell Car Wheel Company; machinery; management; Marine Terminal; Minquadale Home; Pyrites Corporation; Roger Williams; South Wilmington, DelawareTranscript: Pizor: When Seaman and Stuart died in August of '44, I think you said, Springer took over for Seaman as President?
Allmond: He took over after Seaman's death.
Pizor: Was he still a practicing physician?
Allmond: Oh no. It wasn't Springer the physician that...he was a director. His son was the one who took over as President.
Pizor: Had he had any training in your business?
Allmond: Well, he had...he was a Princeton graduate and came to work with us in the foundry right after he was graduated from Princeton. He worked his way around in the foundry and then went over into the office as secretary-treasurer. He was secretary and treasurer when Seaman died and he was elected president then by the other branch of the family.
Scafidi: How many people on the Board were good operations men and knew their way around the foundry and could have, let's say, taken over in a pinch?
Allmond: Well, on the Board when Springer was president, was Springer Sr. who was a director, Weimer knew the plant and he was a director, myself, who had been in the plant for about 30 years then, and that's all. The other directors, two of them were lawyers, one was a physician and Huxley.
Scafidi: Was this a break with any kind of a tradition? Had Lobdell directors before this generally been in operation?
Allmond: Had always been. All brought up in the business. Had all come up through the ranks.
Pizor: Aside from the family connections, there were Jones and Springer also brought in because of their legal background or anything of this sort that felt that their other interests might be of help to Lobdell?
Allmond: I hesitate to answer that. They were highly critical. This was before they were elected directors. Some of the family, including the Jones and the Springer and the Huxley interests, were critical of the fact that there were quite a number of years in there that the dividends were being paid out of surplus, reducing the equity and they thought if they got on the Board everything would be fine. They could tell us what to do. People that know nothing about a place can't tell you how to run it, and how to make a profit, that's all there is to it. Not in that type of business, not in the foundry business. A lot of these big corporations have so many directors that never saw the inside of...we did a lot of experimental work back in 1914, '15, '16 with the DuPont Company. Roger Williams, who afterwards became an officer with the DuPont Company, was just starting out then and he represented the DuPont Company over there and we were making a lot of various steel castings for the DuPont Company in some of their experimental work. Whatever it was he was working on didn't pan out; whatever we had done along with them was lost.
Scafidi: The report mentions that you hadn't paid a dividend out of anything except surplus since 1926. What had caused, shall I say profits, but I guess sales also, to go down in '26?
Allmond: You want to know? I exploded in a directors' meeting one day, when George G. Lobdell, Jr., who was then president, had gotten a bad report from our treasurer. And he said, "I'm going to ask each one of you directors around here your opinion of what's the matter.” And he said, "Stewart you're first, you're at the end of the line. You go first. Tell me what you think is wrong." I said, "I think the thing that is wrong is that you are trying to do business in 1926 with the equipment and the ideas of about 50 years ago." They had been putting nothing into the plant. That caused such a furor that none of the rest of them got asked at all. That started such a battle in there. I said, "You've got machinery in the plant that was old 20 years ago. You haven't replaced any. You have no sales organization. If you hear of somebody who wants to buy some car wheels you send somebody out to see them. But you don't go after them to begin with, or for castings or what have you." There was a lack of modernizing. The company was land poor. They owned so much land over there in South Wilmington, all of that land where the Marine Terminal is belonged to the company. All of the land where the Pyrites Corporation was was the company's; the Cork Insulation; all of that land over there. And it was producing nothing! They sold that land at various times and they took the City of Wilmington bonds for instance, for the sale of the property for a terminal. They took bonds for that, we got no cash for that; but the bonds were negotiable and they were gradually sold by the company. Every once in a while they would get a windfall like that and they'd say"That's all right. We don't need anything new. We'll sell the land and live off the land." That was a very short- sighted policy. Minquadale Farm, now the Minquadale Home, belonged to the company. And then over there by the...back of Eden Park, do you know Eden Park in South Wilmington?
Scafidi: I don't.
Allmond: ...belonged to the company. And the old George G. Lobdell Sr. original was a great fancier for horses. He loved horses. He lived on Minquadale Farm and loved horses. And he tried to breed a winning race horse and he established a place over there in South Wilmington...I don't suppose either one of you ever heard of it. Hazeldel Fair, before there was any Delaware State Fair, Wawaset Fair, or anything like that. And he built a fairgrounds and a racetrack. When I left the employ of the company you could still see the ground over there near the plant. The back turns on the racetrack there; he built stables and had agricultural fairs there every year, it was called the Hazeldel Fair. He lost thousands on that; he never bred a horse that would win a race, that could win a race. There was a time there in the history of the company during one of the depressions, I think it was in the 1890's, I don‘ t know whether it was the '90's or the '70's, when they paid their employees in garden vegetables that came from the Minquadale Farm or from meat. The old man had beef cattle over there and the money they made went into things like that.
Scafidi: Now, wait a minute. Did family, George G. Sr., did he have his own farm on Minquadale Farm or did it belong to the company?
Allmond: I was never sure of Whether the farm was in the company or whether it was his personal farm. I think it was his personal property. But the farm operations came out of the pocketbook or the pockets of the earnings of the company. There was one time the company did make plenty of money...way back. I, just as an aside, a little thing came to my mind...that was used to mark the measure of a man. He had odd ideas about diet, for one thing. And this was told to me by an old colored fellow, who was a cupola tender, and he said, "One day I had a coffeepot on the spout of a cupola' - he had put a steel plate across the top of the trough and he'd cook his coffee and he'd cook a frying pan full of stuff - "Your great grandfather came out here and I had a frying pan with some pork chops in it and had coffee on, and Mr. Lobdell came up there on the platform and he looked and he said, ‘ Harry, what‘ s that?'" Harry said, "That's coffee.“ He said, "Throw it away, throw it away, I don‘ t drink coffee. What's that you got in the pan?" "Pork chops," he said. "Throw them away," he said, "I don't eat pork chops." And so Harry said, "I told him, ‘ I know, Mr. Lobdell, but you don‘ t work.'" Another story I got to thinking about was when they were first establishing the plant in South Wilmington there, they were digging the line for a sewer drainage from the shops and the foreman in charge of that told me this years later. He said, "We had a line laid out,” and Mr. Lobdell, Sr., came along and said, ‘ What are you doing there?‘ ‘ We‘ re putting a sewer in, Mr. Lobdell,‘ and he said, ‘ Why, I didn't want the sewer there, I wanted it over here.‘ So, he said, we filled this ditch and dug another ditch. And then Mr. William Lobdell came along and he said, ‘ What are you doing over here?‘ He says, 'Digging a sewer.‘ 'Well, I told you to put it over there.‘ ‘ I know, Mr. Lobdell, but your father came along and said to put it over here.‘ So, that went on for three or four times - they changed it. They‘ d get so far and...so one day young Mr. Lobdell, that was George G., Jr., who afterward became president, came along and the foreman said, ‘ Mr. Lobdell, I do wish that somebody would make up their mind around here just where that sewer is going to go.‘ He said, 'Your father says put it here and your brother says put it here. Now where must I put it?‘ So, George said, 'If father said put it over here, put it over here and if William says put it over there, put it over there. Just keep changing it, because see, you get your pay every Tuesday night, don‘ t you? Whatever they say, you do."
Pizor: Was this a problem with the company that there was really no one man who could foresee that they needed new equipment or anything?
Allmond: I think so. There should have been a younger outlook coming along in there. Howard Seaman was of the next generation. He was a nephew of George G. Lobdell, Jr. He was a graduate of Cornell in mechanical engineering and he came out of college and went with them in the office, not in the plant. They had some administrative work there and he was a director. More than anything else he was interested in sales. He would follow any leads that anybody got. And there was another one of the nephews, George G. Lobdell, III, who was a graduate of Yale. He was a chemist and he was a plant man. And the mistake was made when they let him leave the plant to go with his father-in-law. I think I told you about him the first time, Moxham during World War I, because George III was a hard worker, knew what he was doing, knew the need for things, and he had the entree to his ' father to get whatever he wanted for the plant. If he needed a new furnace, he got it; but when they let him go nobody took over. I was just a clerk in there at that time, really, I wasn't much else. It was very hard to convince them. And Joe Stuart, who was the engineer, wasn't a member of the family and he hesitated to try to force his way. He said, "Well, it's a family matter. I can't go after something that... because the family needs this and needs that and needs the other.
Scafidi: Did things like this tend to become family matters when they really should have been business matters?
Allmond: Sure. That's right. I'm rambling on here. I don't know how much of it is any value to you.
Pizor: It's very valuable.
Allmond: I wish that I could put my finger on the thing and say, "This caused the trouble." I know for a fact that one period there, prior to the time that this was written, that there was better than one-half million dollars in cash assets which for a company like that wasn‘ t bad. Of course, now, if you're talking about DuPont 1/2 of 1,000,000 is (snap of fingers). And it wasn't but a few months after that they were borrowing money from the Security Trust and I could never understand why because we were just as busy, and shipping out just as much stuff. I wish I knew where some of the things went. It didn't go out in dividends; that is, to any great extent. If I could put my finger on it I could solve some things that have been going around in my mind for quite a long time. A lot of questions.
Pizor: Between 1926 or the time you stood up in the Board meeting and said you had to have new equipment and 1944 when Springer announced that they were going to invest in new equipment, you still didn't buy anything new?
Allmond: Oh yes, there were some things new...
Pizor: But not enough?
Allmond: Not enough. Not enough. One of the great troubles then was that our major product was a declining industry; all throughout the United States, not only ourselves. But that was the chilled iron car wheel business, but that was on the way out. There's still some foundries that I think, are operating but not like they were. We were letting it go without anything to replace it and that's the reason we started out hunting for other things, but this Nazel business was...something that didn't pan out.
- Other products at Lobdell; competition between the foundry at machine shop at Lobdell; problems with the Atlas Axle Company; more on economic depressions, paying employees in vegetables and the Lobdell CanalKeywords: Atlas Axle Co.; competition; economic depressions; foundry; Lobdell Canal; machine shop; Mack and Co. C.P.A.; Minquadale Home; paper mill; Pennsylvania Railroad; Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company; Philadelphia Rural Transit CompanyTranscript: Pizor: Did you have another product that was, say, second to your chilled car wheels that you might have pushed a little bit more?
Allmond: Yes. We had our paper mill machinery was second. If a person, an accountant for instance, went over some of the old statements of the company he'd see the foundry losing year after year, but the machine shops making a profit year after year. That's where I got into trouble again because I was essentially a foundry man and as soon as I began to get the financial statements monthly and saw the overhead that I was being charged - three times the overhead that was being charged to the machine shop, then I exploded, but I couldn't do anything about it. Because they wanted the machine shop to show a profit and they didn't want the foundry to show a profit. Now, why, I don't know. I wasn't high enough up in management then.
Pizor: About what time was that?
Allmond: Oh, I'd say that was in the 40's, the early 40's.
Scafidi: Was it because they were bound and determined to make the Nazel purchase look good or....?
Allmond: Well, I can't say that, John. We were trying our damnedest to make the whole business look good. I don't know. I don't know whether you knew Harry Mack or not. He was a C.P.A. in Mack and Company - they were our auditors and he made an audit and had his auditors in there and he came to me one day with...I have forgotten, a very important thing, Atlas Axle Company. I don't know whether I mentioned Atlas Axle Company before so let's go back then. I don't have the exact date, but it was in the late '20's or early '30's there was a man here in Newark named Whittingham who was an assistant engineer in the Pennsylvania Railroad Company; not a locomotive engineer, but he was one of the assistant principal engineers. He held patents on a special bus axle; this was the beginning of the "hey-day" of the buses. They were trying to get a low center of gravity for buses and he had a patent on what he called the Atlas axle which...here was the wheel, came down like this across the differential here in the middle, that's some description, and then came up and the axle with the wheel on it was higher than the frame so that the bus's frame could sit down lower and still have the same amount of clearance on the wheels. And he had a little plant down here in Newark on Delaware Avenue where Headly's Plumbing place - that was the original Atlas Axle Plant; there's a machine shop in there now on one floor and Headly's on the other. His son was a classmate of mine here at Delaware, Dick Whittingham. I ran into him in our plant one day. "What're you doing up here?" He said, "Oh, I just brought Dad up," he says, "We're trying to find somebody to build the Atlas axle for us. Dad's over in the office now with Mr. Lobdell and Mr. Stuart and Mr. Seaman." This was about, now I can spot it, it was about 1923 and he said, "We want to build...we need some financing...we want to build these axles. We can sell the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company one hundred of these axles right off the bat. They're just beginning to change over some of their trolley lines in Philadelphia to bus lines." "But," he said, "we haven't got the money to do it. We are going to form with... we hope to form with the Lobdell Company the Atlas Axle Company of which the Lobdell people will own 51% of the stock and we'll take the balance 49% for the patents and the goodwill and what have you." So that deal went through. Atlas was bought for a half a million dollars and that's where some of our surplus went, into that company. We got the order and we started production on it in the machine shop; expanded the machine shop considerably at that time because it did look good. They got ten of them completed and put under buses in Philadelphia and for every one that went out we had to send a machinist to Philadelphia to keep adjusting them. And we started to send some bills to the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company for the ten that had been delivered to them and which they had accepted - they still were on the experimental basis, but they refused to pay the bills. They said, "We don't owe those.“ We didn't order those things. It was the Philadelphia Rural Transit Company, PRT, ordered those. The Philadelphia Rural Transit Company is in the hands of receivers." We stopped making the things after we had sunk almost a half a million dollars. And a burnt child fears a fire, you know, and people would come along with ideas for us to do this and we'd say, "Oh, Lord, no. We sunk half a million dollars in one experiment." But that was a fraud too, because PRT was Philadelphia Rapid Transit; it was the whole Rapid Transit System there with their finances back of them. Philadelphia Rural Transit was the same initials and all, but a subsidiary and that's the way the Philadelphia people got out of paying some bills. We had one or two buses running around here that we put on, but we weren't big enough to really go in the bus business.
Scafidi: After the Atlas Axle business there was a definite bias against innovation?
Allmond: I don't know John. I would say that there was a...that there were...that was when Harry Mack...I started to talk about Harry Mack...we were still trying to dispose of castings and differential wheels - we had them by the hundreds over there. And Harry Mack was in the office. And I said, "What are you funding Harry?" He said, "If you don't get out of that Atlas Axle business pretty soon, there won't be anything left of Atlas Axle or Lobdell Car Wheel Company either." That's when I put up another battle in there and finally George G. III, came out, no George G. Jr., the president, came out and he was looking around the storage yard where we had all these things piled up and he went right back to the office and he called in Whittingham and he said, "We are going to have a meeting to dissolve the Atlas Axle Company and liquidate it." And he did. But we were still out the money. Finally we got rid of practically everything we had in the line of materials for them we got rid of for scrap. Brown, L , Chapin who make differentials for automobiles and is a subsidiary of General Motors were furnishing the differentials for these axles for us; beautiful jobs, oh, cost several hundred bucks apiece. We threw them away...threw them into the cupola, melted them up; couldn‘ t dispose of them, they weren't fit for any other kind of an axle. I don't know what further more I can add on that score. Do you have any leads that you could ask?
Pizor: Was the depression...you had, I imagine, a fairly large work force. How did you keep them on? Did you...?
Allmond; During the depression we divided our entire force. Foundry, Machine Shop, Administrative, Supervisors, the whole thing...we divided it right down the middle; half and half. One group worked three days a week this week and were off the following week and then that week three days a week other group worked, so you were actually 1 1/2 days a week. Have you been to see Pete yet?
Scafidi: No, I think we will either this week or next.
Allmond: That was pretty tough living. The Lobdell canal which runs up from the Christina River up into where we had our plant; we dug to bring sand in by barge and we shipped some things out by barge...that of course was there when I first went to work, but it was dug during one of the early depressions, I think around '93, or '92. It was dug by pickaxe and wheelbarrow and man labor deep enough, it was dug deep enough to bring a barge in there and I expect we must have had about 12 feet of water at low tide. The men who dug that were employees of the company and the company was shut down down practically and the men dug that and were paid in produce, not in money, from the old man's farm, over in Minquadale. I remember my mother talking about every summer she used to go over to her grandfather's in Minquadale and spent a week or two there and heard tell of her getting away from the billy goats, climb up in the hay mown when she was a girl. One day she didn't get up the ladder quite fast enough and the billy goat got her in the rear end as she started up the ladder. She didn't care much about billy goats from then on.
- World War I; Great Depression; getting bought out in 1946; retiring in 1947; returning to work as a consultantKeywords: chilled iron rolls; Great Depression; Joseph Stuart; Norfolk & Western; paper mill machinery; retirement; United States Railway Administration; United Steelworkers Union; Walter Lippincott; William Lobdell; World War ITranscript: Pizor: Everyone in the starting of the war years, there was increased production even if profits were down. Were you - you could reemploy a lot of your work force but you just weren't making the profits. Is that it? You were producing a lot but you weren't making very much on what you produced?
Allmond: That‘ s right. During World War I, I was over working over there. During World War I the government had taken over the operation of the railroads, the USRA, United States Railways.Administration, and we didn't do business with the railroads at all. We were very busy then with wheels, we made 500 or 600 wheels a day and we couldn't make them fast enough in World War I and that saved our neck during that time because the Railway Administration had to move troops and move equipment and what have you and we had several new customers given to us by the railway administration, the Norfolk and Western for one was one of the railroads that we had tried for years to sell but the railway administration came along and ordered it - ordered wheels from us for them. We made the first small wheels - you know these tanks that lay their track as they go along. We made the first wheels for the first tanks that were built by this country over there and they were a double flange, double tread wheel and as the tank proceeded it laid its own truck you know, ran on these wheels. I think there were a couple dozen wheels on each one of those vehicles.
Scafidi: Were profits better to you think during World War I than during World War II? You say the government take-over of the railways saved your neck during World War I?
Allmond: Well, as far as when I say saved our necks, we were able to get materials during World War I working for the railway administration that we couldn't have gotten otherwise. But profits were never very high in any part of that business.
Scafidi: Well, what was a good profit, percentage-wise?
Allmond: If we could clear 10% profit in our work we were lucky. And very often it was lower than that. During the Depression - you asked me about the Depression - during the Depression our sales, gross sales, amounted to a little over $12,000 for the year. That didn't begin to meet with payrolls for the office let alone anything else. So we were just flat.
Scafidi Were most of the other foundries in the area as bad off during this era? So that your competition was....?
Pizor: Now, who bought you out in 1946? How did that come about?
Allmond: Well, that was Walter Lippincott of Philadelphia. He was, I don't know how to put it. He was not a practical man - he didn't have any practical experience in running a business at that time. He was a young man and he had more money than he knew what to do with. And this man Weimer when he found out that we were in difficulties went to him and found the purchaser. He came in there and he bought the entire capital stock, 100%. It was either everybody sell or he wouldn't buy so we all sold our shares in the old company. And he, the day he came in there as the owner he laid off, paid in full, all. Young Mr. Springer who had been president, gathered up his things and left. I stayed with him. He bought the place right during the time we were closed on account of the steelworkers strike, the United Steelworkers struck the whole industry, industry wide. And when Lippincott bought the place he asked me to stay on. I had been operating the plant and was running the plant. He asked me to stay on. I had a buddy there older than I and he was virtually my assistant at the plant at that time although he didn't have that title and Lee and I had a long confab with Lippincott when he came in and he said the statement is pretty poor and what can we do about it? I said, "You give Lee and me 18 months and we'll put you in the black. If we do I expect a pretty good bonus from you." And in eighteen months he was in the black. And he called us in the office and he said, "Now, I made an agreement with you. You put me in the black and within the time you specified and I said I'd give you a bonus and he said I'd like you to go for another six months so we can make it a real one. "Well, all right." We were sailing along pretty good there. So he held up a bonus and then my buddy left and moved to Florida and retired and then I stayed with him until May of '47 and then I retired. He had brought in a foundry superintendent there who didn‘ t know beans from buttons and we were in a continual battle about things about running the foundry and I told him it was either him or me. He said, "Well, how about coming over in the office with me." And I said, "All right, but I'm not going to have any- thing to do with running the foundry." I got out of the foundry and went over in the office and helped make some of these design operations, etc. and then in ‘ 47 I said I've had enough. I was tired so I left.
Pizor: Do you feel that in '45 when they sold out they should have looked around a little bit more to see if they could get a better buyer or...?
Allmond: Oh, I don't know Mrs. Pizor. There again, my distrust for the man Weimer enters into the picture. He found a purchaser and I'm pretty sure he got a right nice sum out of the purchaser for finding...
Pizor: He didn't stay with the company though?
Allmond: Yes, he stayed.
Pizor: Oh, he did, with Lippincott.
Allmond: He stayed. He was...and after I had retired in May of 1947 Lippincott called me up at home one day about three months after I retired and asked me to come in and see him so I went in to see him, and he said, "I have made a change in the foundry. Cleon, that you couldn't get along with is gone. My losses in the foundry are running around 80% bad castings." You can't lose over 4% of castings bad and make any money and he said, "I'd like you to come back." "No sir." "Well, what will you do for me in the roll business." That's where Pete might tell you about how many rolls they lost. I said, "I'll come back to you on a consultant basis so much per day. When you need me call me up and I'll come in and I'll straighten things out and if you don't need me you won‘ t have to be paying me. I'll bill you monthly for the time I spend in here." Well, that seemed to be all right and then in two months he was back to his normal losses of about 4% to 5% in castings. And he had a man in there who had come from a foundry in Philadelphia that didn't know anything and the manufacture of chilled rolls is a highly complicated metallurgical job. You take any book on foundry practice - I forget the one that is supposed to be the Bible of the foundry industry, text books, etc. and they've got about one paragraph in there about the relation to the metallurgy and manufacture of chilled iron rolls being such a highly specialized business that there are so few experts in there that we cannot give any information on that.
Pizor: Was that sort of like a dying trade, not very many people...?
Allmond: I wouldn't say so. As long as they are building paper mills they are going to have to have chilled rolls.
Pizor: How do you learn this? Just by working in...?
Allmond: Just by working on it. That's the way I learned it. I learned it at the feet of Joe Stuart. He was the man that built it up over there. He was my...and I learned the mixing of iron, the metallurgy of iron for car wheels I learned that from the records of my grandfather, William Lobdell, and had kept over the years. And I followed those things. I don't know where those things are now, where the records of the company got to after I...
- Working with Lippincott and bringing the foundry back into profitability; quality control; labor in the 1930s and 1940s; labor problems during World War IIKeywords: African Americans; consulting; DuPont; Eastern Malleable Iron Co.; Great Depression; labor; machinery; mechanization; Pawling and Harnischfleger; Polish Americans; profits; quality controls; sales; South Wilmington, Delaware; Ukrainian Americans; United States Employment Board; Walter LippincottTranscript: John Scafidi - Why was it so, you speak of after Lippincott bought the place, you act as though it was so easy for you to show a profit in 18 months, getting into the black. What was wrong that it was so comparatively easy?
Allmond : Well, one thing I had no interference from anybody in the office. He gave me free rein. I had to buy some new equipment for the shop. I got the new equipment. I had to have some new equipment in the foundry and he was willing to put up for it. Also he was, I can't take credit for the increased sale, but he had a sales organization to go out and sell more and volume has a great deal to do with whether you are making a profit or whether you are not making a profit. If your volume is small you have got to dig like the devil to make a profit.
Scafidi: Did you expand your range of products?
Allmond: No. We did, yes, because in the foundry there had been a great deal of the foundry work prior to his buying the place which had been hand work and he let me spend some money for mechanizing the different conveyers, different sand mixers, so that we were operating on a more efficient basis.
Pizor: Did you enjoy working for Lippincott?
Allmond: Yes, I enjoyed working for Lippincott. Until he brought in one or two people I couldn't get along with. Lippincott and I got along fine.
Scafidi: Do you know whether he was part of the publishing family? In Philadelphia.
Allmond: I don't know for sure.
Scafidi: Paper rolls and publishing.
Allmond: His name was Walter Lippincott. Now, after he sold here he bought a foundry in Chester and whether he still is operating that foundry or not I don't know.
Pizor: Do you know why he sold this and when?
Allmond: I don't know. I had left some time before.
Scafidi: There are two things that struck me. You said that you were operating or you were running quality control tests one time, optical pyrometer. When did you start with quality control at Lobdell?
Allmond: Well, we always had some quality control, but the quality control was then in the hands of one or two experts in the foundry without any equipment much. In 1927 or 1928, '27 I guess we started buying instruments for measuring temperature of iron and optical pyrometers and in controlling the quality of the iron coming from the cupolas. We ran tests on our coke — chemical — I told you about that in the beginning.
Scafidi: Did this result in any sort of saving?
Allmond: No, it wasn't saving. It was the idea of trying to better the product. Specifications were being, especially in the car wheel business specifications were being tightened up all the time and if you were a member of the car wheel association you had to perform certain standards. They drew up the specifications and you had to have a record of the heat of the temperature of the iron going into certain times of the day and the temperature of the pits where the wheels were cooled and that was where we had to get all these optical pyrometers. I was the first one over there that had to use the optical pyrometers and I taught the foundry foreman and the men to use it and only at once a week, intervals of once or twice a week I'd go in there and get the pyrometer. We were supposed under the specifications no iron, no molten iron with a temperature of less than 2400 degrees was supposed to be poured into car wheels. You were supposed to dispose of that in pig iron and break it up and melt it over again. So you had to be watching all the time that you had your 2400 degrees and if it wasn't up to 2400 degrees you had to make changes in your mixture or amount of your coke in the cupolas.
Pizor: Something about your labor force. In the late 30's when the Depression started to life in the early 40's, who hired men for your foundry under you? Did you do the hiring?
Allmond: We had no set policy but at that time if the foreman needed a laborer or a moulder he called someone in the group and said, "Bring me in a moulder." There was no formal policy for hiring. And then when they came along with this U.S. Employment Board or whatever they were called why we would call them up and say we needed a machinist or we need this and they would send them out.
Pizor: Were - in these same years, the late 30's and early 40's - were most of your men older men who had...?
Allmond: Older men, yes.
Pizor: And the new ones that came in? I know before you said a lot of them were sons and were going...
Pizor: Were you still getting predominantly Poles and Negroes?
Allmond: Yes. The machine shops and the pattern shops were mostly all Americans. White. In the foundry moulders, mechanics as we called them, were mostly all Americans but when you got to the car wheel moulders and laborers, they were blacks and Polish and Ukrainians.
Pizor: Did you ever have any blacks rise up to become a little above just a laborer?
Allmond: We had some that we called assistant foreman it might be. We put a black in the wheel cleaning department. We had a colored man that was over about a dozen Poles and take it all the way through, there would be one or two that would stand out above the rest of them and they would - we never had one higher than foreman. We had a foreman, a black foreman at one time, of labor of a yard gang outside. We called him a foreman.
Pizor: But they could oversee the Poles and Negroes without any trouble?
Allmond: Yes, there was no trouble. None at all. We had to maintain separate washroom and toilet facilities for the blacks in both the machine shop and foundries. The white men wouldn't use the black and black wouldn't use the whites. So we had double facilities that way.
Pizor: Did you ever think that you were having a difficult time competing for labor for machinists or anything of this sort, with a company like DuPont or some of these bigger companies.
Allmond: Never with DuPont. We did have trouble more or less with labor and molders with the Eastern Malleable Iron Co. They were at our front door practically. They are in South Wilmington and in days of scarcity of labor why we were always just a little bit one way or the other - either a little bit higher than Eastern Malleable or a little bit lower. Had to even it out. My fuss with the Employment Service - this was during World War II, trying to operate two shifts, we sent in a request for instance for a first class machinist. Sure, we've got some on file. We'll send them out. They come out with a card, first class machinist, so and so. "Tell me what you know about machine shops". "Mister, I ain't no machinist, I'm a painter." "I don't want a painter." "Well, I know, but they told me to come out here you'd hire me for a machinist." That was the kind of trouble we had during World War II. We were operating two shifts then, two eight hour shifts in the Machine Shop, only one shift in the Foundry and I didn't have sufficient supervisory force to divide up for two shifts because in the daytime I needed the best I could get and as foreman, supervisor, gang foreman, so I was spending eight hours a day during the day and going home and getting dinner and coming back and working until 10 or 11 at night to help supervise. I did everything in that plant from pushing a wheel barrow, running an overhead crane. There wasn't a crane in the place that I couldn't operate. We had the first monorail electric hoists that were ever built in the country, had 22 of them in the wheel foundry over there. Pawling and Harnischfeger made them; sold them to us. That was a straight-line monorail hoist job. We had...did I mention the fact that the first day we were Operating the (this was before my time) new 84 inch Cupolas was the day that President McKinley was shot. That was in 1901. That was always easy to remember. "When did you start that cupola?" "The day McKinley was shot." I don't know if I had mentioned that before or not.
- Lobdell and the wheels on Abraham Lincoln's funeral train; Lobdell Company's name changesKeywords: Abraham Lincoln; Emerson Wilson; George G. Lobdell Jr.; Paul Campbell; United Engineering; United Engineering Foundry, Lobdell DivisionTranscript: Pizor - There have been some articles that said that the wheels on Lincoln's funeral train came from Lobdell and that they were sunk in the ground at the Marine Terminal. Do you remember about that?
Allmond: We had, one, two, two wheels that I came across when cleaning up some of the yard, scrap wheels there and I was interested particularly, because of the early date on the wheels. The date was cast right on the wheel. Now don't ask me to tell you just what date it was because I don't have it. And we were cleaning up one day and breaking up a lot of the wheels to melt and Mr. George G., Jr. who was then president, came down. I called his attention to these two old wheels, to the old date and he said, "You know, those were from the funeral coach that carried President Lincoln's body out to Springfield to be buried." And he said that when they scrapped the car they sent the wheels here. And he said, "There ought to be eight of them. But he said, "They've probably been broken up. Take care of those." I was attending a conference in Chicago some time later at the Association of Manufacturers chilled car wheels headquarters there and I spoke about these two wheels and oh, they went up in the air. "Let us have them." "Well, I'll see what the boss says, but I don't think he‘ ll let you have them." He let them have one. And it was on, it had been painted aluminum and made out there. I saw it some years later on a pedestal on a concrete platform with a nice railing around it, with a plaque on it - Wheel from the car in which President Lincoln's body was borne. So, I got busy and I got this one we still had left and had it painted with aluminum paint and made a sort of a little platform to put it on over there and it was still there when I left there. And I had forgotten about it and Emerson Wilson, when he was talking to me one day, asked me something about it and I told him the story of it. He said, "Where is it?" I said, "Darned if I know." So, it was there when I left, in the same place. He said, "It's not there now." I said, "You might call up a friend of mine who was still working for Lobdell when I left there, Paul Campbell. He might be able to tell you because he was there when Lippincott sold to the United Foundry and he worked for the United outfit; maybe he can tell you where it is. So, it seems that when United Engineering closed the plant they took the wheel with them out to their headquarters in Pittsburgh because of its significance, the thought... But Cathcart who manages the Marine Terminal managed to get it back from them, but where it is now I don't know. He got it back from United and had it sent here because they had taken over the plant, you know. So, that was the story of the wheels. That car was, according to...it was a news item, at one time by Huntley, Chet Huntley. He talked about the car being destroyed by fire out some place, I don't know....
Pizor: Out in the mid-west.
Allmond: Minneapolis or someplace or other, but he didn't mention anything about the wheels. So, it was after it was destroyed by fire that they probably sent the wheels back.
Pizor: One other question. When Lippincott took over, did he keep the name Lobdell or was it changed?
Allmond: He kept the name Lobdell Company. He Operated under the name Lobdell Company and then when he sold to the United they operated under the name United Engineering and Foundry Company, Lobdell Division and when they moved out to, back to, when they closed out this place and moved back to their headquarters they dropped the name Lobdell completely. It was simply United Engineering and Foundry.
Pizor: I can't think of anything else. I think we've picked you completely.
Allmond: I can ramble on if you have some leads. There is so much in the back of my head.
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